Through all the stories and business advice that I have written about, this was possibly one of the most important tools that helped me along the way: keeping a diary.
Remember, I was a high school dropout, but I had a lot of street smarts, which always seemed to kick in just when I needed them most. There was no template that I followed, and I really didn't have someone who gave me Yoda-like advice when it appeared that I was hitting a brick wall.
I started keeping a diary in December 1974, because I needed a way to express the enormous emotional and physical pain that I was dealing with following my mother's sudden death, my girlfriend breaking up with me, and the break up of the first version of our band, Twisted Sister. All of these events happened over a 10-day period that December.
I was 22 years old.
Because I had been a heavy drug user between the ages of 15 to 20 (I stopped cold turkey six months prior to the beginning of the band), I swore to myself that I wouldn't take the easy way out by returning to my drug-riddled past. Starting a diary and putting my thoughts on paper was part of my salvation. The diary became a narrative of my will to survive.
Maybe I will, at some other time, write about the depression that I experienced due to the confluence of these extraordinary experiences. Suffice to say, once my depression lifted, I continued the diary for 15 years as a historical document on my ongoing march to rock 'n' roll stardom.
Over the years, the diary revealed many patterns to me. I documented the band's ability to stay current and draw crowds during the huge economic swings that affected the U.S. and the world. It also showed how we adapted to the Son of Sam murder spree in 1976 to 1977, which had the effect of either keeping girls at home or prompting them to wear brunette wigs to our shows (he seemed to only shoot blond women). There was also disco music's rise, and the resulting closing of rock clubs for a period of time; the gas crisis in the summer of 1979; and, most importantly, the drinking age rising from 18 to 21, taking away potentially thousands of new fans.
Perhaps the most important detail that began to emerge was the pattern of behavior exhibited by the band: our fierce desire to make it no matter what was thrown at us. Time after time, rejection after rejection, and no matter what disasters would befall us, we seemed to follow the same pattern as I would recount in my diary: Take the hit, briefly mourn, reinvent ourselves, and re-apply that reinvention. This pattern (almost like the instructions on a shampoo bottle: wet hair, apply shampoo, rinse, repeat) was becoming an unconscious habit that I now understand all successful business models possess.
And, of course, the diary provided stats that I could always refer to, including the names of the venues we played, the frequency of appearances, the songs we played, the reactions of the fans, the money earned, the merchandise sales, etc.
Keeping a diary also gave me a window into my soul, by exposing my deepest fears. By doing so, it also showed that with each challenge and emotional setback, I could take the hit and move forward. Confidence builds on itself over time and becomes one of the greatest tools you could ever possess.
But the diary's greatest gift, I recognized years later, was the understanding it gave me of not only my character, but of the kind of commitment that my band and I made to each other as partners in a business that demanded one thing: a ferocious desire to succeed.